Monday, September 29, 2008

Study Break Cupcakes

When you're in class for 4 hours a night for 4 nights a week you get a pretty clear idea of things that would make these classes go by a little easier. Cheetos come to mind. But really other than Cheetos, coffee, booze, and sugar are probably in the top 5. So imagine my happiness when this month's Cupcake Hero was Baker's Choice. Baker's choice meant that we get to pick at least two of the previous Cupcake Hero challenges and combine them into our entry for this month. Conveniently booze, and coffee were two past challenges. Sugar is pretty much a standard cupcake addition, but if I'm going for truly comforting sugar, I'm going for marshmallow fluff. Nicely, marshmallow is yet another past challenge. And being that my cupcake is made from coffee we had in the house and the Brain took all the regular coffee to the office, I was left with Pumpkin Spice coffee. So I made it a coffee spice cake. And of course with a spice cake, cloves then enters the cupcake, yet another past challenge.

I didn't go hog wild though. I left out the jalapeno.
And the Cheetos.

Study Break Cupcakes
an original Shazamer recipe

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature and cut into small pieces
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp Kahlua
2 large eggs
1/2 cup Pumpkin Spice flavored coffee at room temperature
Preheat oven to 350F. Place paper liners in 12 cupcake wells.

Whisk flour, baking powder, allspice, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt together in a small bowl to aerate and combine. Set aside.

Beat butter and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer for 3 minutes or until light and fluffy, scraping the down the bowl occasionally. Beat in vanilla extract. Add eggs one at a time and scraping the bowl between eggs. Mix in one half the flour mixture. Then beat in the cooled coffee. Add the rest of the flour mixture and beat briefly until well combined.

Divide the batter evenly among the 12 cupcake wells and bake for 18 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Cool completely on a rack.

Marshmallow Frosting:

1 cup marshmallow fluff
4 Tbsp softened unsalted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp milk
pinch of salt
Mix together fluff, butter, extract, sugar, and salt. Add milk to create the right consistency frosting. You may need more or less depending on how thick you prefer your frosting.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

My Fridge, of A Place to Hang Things

So Wendy over at A Wee Bit of Cooking had a Fridge Door Competition. And she's posted the roundup today. And I am just plain goofy sometimes, because although I managed to send my photos in on time, I did almost forget to post about the roundup today. So go over to Wendy's at check out some really neat looking refrigerator doors. Apparently most people do not plaster their fridges with junk like I do. Wendy also has a really cool blog so you may want to poke around on it too.

Here are the photos I sent.

The top photo is actually the side of my fridge. It is plastered with the photos of the many many nieces and nephews and godchildren the Brain and I have. There's also a couple photos of us up there. And one of Han Solo and Princess Leia. There's also our engagement announcement from the paper, a letter from a nephew, a timer, a love voodoo doll, and a sourdough starter recipe.

The bottom photo is the front of our fridge. Here you will find another photo of a nephew, a drawing made by a very sweet little girl at our wedding (which I love because in the drawing I tower over the Brain and I'm skinny, and he's got hair). There's also some artwork of a different nephew and a godson, the menu plan for the week, a schedule of when assignments are due in classes, some save the date cards, and a religious card given to me by my 6 year old niece.

I didn't show the other side, there's just spare magnets over there. Actually what's really frightening would be what's on TOP of the fridge. Or even what's behind it. But I"m not taking photos of that.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Vegan Lavash Crackers and Herbal Oil dip

I tend to shy away from vegan recipes for a couple reasons. I am completely in love with butter. I try to eat it only in moderation, but I do eat it. Happily. I love the stuff. Another reason I shy away from vegan recipes is the usual abundance of soy recipes. While soy is a lovely food for most people, it makes me violently ill. It's not life threatening or anything, just gross. And painfull. And finally, those vegan recipes can be hard to find. I admire people who stick to the vegan lifestyle. I couldn't do it.

But the Daring Baker's Challenge this month was Lavash crackers that we made vegan. Some people even went the gluten free route, but I'm afraid I just went with vegan. Then we had to come up with a vegan dip. I went with a lovely herbal oil. It's almost like a tangy pesto. Overall these crackers were damass delicious and I'll be making them again.

That way the Brain can have some too.

I may have inhaled most of them.

Herbal Oil Dip

1 cup assorted herbs (I used parsley, marjoram, thyme, lemon thyme, oregano, mint, rosemary)
1 Tbsp capers
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup olive oil

Throw everything in the food processor and pulse until desired consistency.
Don't forget to check out all the other Daring Baker's and this month's challenge is hosted by Natalie of Gluten a Go Go and Shel of Musings from the Fishbowl.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Butternut Squash and White Bean Soup

OK, I know I said I wasn't going to be focused on Legume Wednesday on Wednesday anymore. But this Wednesday I happened to make this really great Legume dish and so I'm going with it. I think I'll clarify the whole Legume Wednesday to be Mostly Legume Wednesday. Or should that be Sometimes Legume Wednesday? Oh I don't know.

I can tell you that I had my first exam yesterday. In Adolescent Psychology. And it just figures that the test, like adolescence, was pretty much taken up by puberty. And I can also let you know that having to write letters to my imaginary son and daughter about what will happen to them in puberty as I desert them for the next five years was almost as painfully awkward as puberty itself. I hit the bare facts and then told my imaginary son to go ask his dad. I know, not all kids have active and involved dads, but as long as we're dealing with imaginary kids, I thought it perfectly reasonable to have this imaginary kid have a good imaginary relationship with the Brain. I also imagined that they were gifted children with an extensive vocabulary. I mean of course my imaginary children are brilliant. Geniuses really. Socially adept, popular, well behaved geniuses anyway.

Today in school we sang songs about means and averages. I'm not kidding. Yeah, this is graduate school. I'm not sure how to handle it all to be honest. But every day I drive down to the next county through rolling hills of farmland. The farmers are starting to plow the crops under. The corn is ready to be harvested and there are some huge golden soybean fields. Even the cows are starting to look furrier. Sooner rather than later it's going to be fall. I'm so ready. I love fall. And I think my drive is going to be beautiful when the leaves change colors. I just hope I'll be able to get that song out of my head by then.

SO in honor of fall, I made this healthy and delicious squash and white bean soup. It really took very little time. I mean I wouldn't beat out Rachel Ray and her 30 minutes business, but I don't think it took an hour and she has a prep team so that's just not fair. But the soup was mighty tasty and the bacon added a delicious smokiness to it. If you're a vegetarian you could probably substitute some fake bacon or just leave it out. There were some surprises too. Adding such a little bit of cream still made it so wonderfully creamy and it's not a sweet soup as most squash soups tend to be. This was a really flavorfull warmly spiced soup. It was a great lunch. Happy Wednesday.

Butternut Squash - White Bean Soup
lightly modified from Cooking Light

3 bacon slices
1 medium onion, chopped
4 stalks celery, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (1/2 pound) butternut squash, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch cubes
1/4 cup dry white wine
4 cups fat-free, less sodium chicken broth
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 (15 ounce) cans Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained

Cook bacon in a Dutch oven over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, reserving 2 tsp drippings in pan. Crumble bacon and set aside.

Add onion, celery, and garlic to pan. Cook 3 minutes or until tender. Add squash and cook for 3 more minutes. Add wine and cook until most of the liquid is evaporated. Stir in broth, cumin, red pepper, cinnamon, and cloves. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until the squash is tender. Stir in the cream, oregano, salt, black pepper, beans and bacon. Bring to a boil and then remove from heat.

Yields 6, 1 1/2 cup servings.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Rice Noodles with Peanut Sauce

Well here's a time saver for all of us busy people out there. Rice Sticks. Yes, they sound a little odd. But they are really cool little thin noodles. They look somewhat like angel hair pasta, but they take no time to cook. Seriously. These noodles took 1 minutes to cook. It took longer to boil the water.

This recipe is so quick and so easy that it even fit (with blogging) into my nonexistent Sunday. Yes, I am only awake and at home for a total of about 4 hours on a Sunday. Throw out one hour for church and that leaves me enough time to wash the donut clothes, eat and take a shower. I have to say, I felt very much like Rachel Ray on speed. She may make healthy and delicious meals in 30 minutes, but I made mine in 15 minutes. OK, so I was mostly following a recipe, and she comes up with many many recipes to make in less than half an hour and so far I have one. Well, unless you count pasta, but the Brain has declared no more whole wheat pasta, and we could stand a break from it anyway.

Rice Noodles with Peanut Sauce
serves 4

6.75 ounce package Mai Fun Rice Sticks
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 cup water
14 ounce can of bean sprouts
1 small red bell pepper, cut into 1/4 inch strips
2 green onions, sliced (2 Tbsp)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Heat 2 quarts water to boiling, pull noodles apart slightly and drop into boiling water. Cook uncovered 1 minute. Drain. Rinse with cold water and drain again.

Mix peanut butter, soy sauce, ginger, and red pepper in small bowl with wire whisk until smooth. Gradually mix in water.

Place noodles in large bowl. Add peanut butter mixture, bean sprouts, pepper, and onions. Toss. Sprinkle with cilantro.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Plum Ginger Jam

I have a confession to make. I have been a horrible student so I've been having a terrible time with graduate school. I'm not dumb. It's not that I don't understand the subject matter. It's just that for the first time since 5th grade I'm actually doing homework. You hear that mom? I'm doing my homework. Actually my mom knows I'm doing my homework because I keep calling her up because I don't really have too good of a memory of what happened when I was in school. I probably would remember better if I participated in class, went to class, or did the homework.

But what can I say? I was bored. I found the majority of subjects uninteresting, or only interesting enough to hold my attention for the 45 minute class period. In searching for my SAT scores this week (yeah I have NO idea where we put those 20 years ago), I came across a giant stack of progress reports. They all said the same thing. I'm a gem. I'm really good at class discussions. I really need to remember to bring my books to class and get there on time. Oh and it would be great if I wasn't so sloppy and unorganized. And by the way, effort has disappeared and if I don't turn in the 17 missing assignments I'm going to fail the class.


You would think I would learn to do homework in college when I got to study subjects that were more interesting. Well, I would think that to. But nope. See in college although the material got more interesting, life outside school got way more interesting too. So yeah, I didn't really get any better at doing my homework. I think the statistics professors figured it was a statistical improbability that I could pass the class without doing the homework (we didn't have to turn it in). But I had this great friend Robin, and right before every exam I'd spend the night at her house drinking beer and eating pizza and she would help me learn the important stuff and we'd study together. So yeah, I graduated with my statistics degree after a lot of beer and pizza. And very little actual homework.

Finally, at the tender young age of 36, I'm doing homework. I'm not very good at it. And I agonize over every paper. Agonize. Seriously. But I'm doing that homework. My classes are really interesting and I'm learning a ton, but this homework thing is brutal.

So what does this have to do with food blogging? Well, I am going to be letting Legume Wednesdays slide a little bit. I do still cook with a lot of legumes and you will see many recipes here still that include beans. But lately I've been using the crock pot a lot and although it provides tasty food that's ready for the Brain when he comes home from work and still warm when I get home, the legume recipes for the slow cooker don't look that appetizing and frankly when I get home at 10:00pm, I'm too tired to remember to photograph dinner before eating it and I don't have any good light to work with either.

Molly at Batter Splattered is hosting the Jammin' Jelly Exchange, and in the spirit of going back to school and the delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich that used to be a school lunchroom staple (although now because of the increase in peanut allergies it is frequently banned from schools), I have made jam. Yummy Plum Ginger Jam. My mom used to make batches upon batches of jams when I was a kid. our fruit cellar was lined with jars of jam. And we'd eat them all up. 6 kids eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches kills a jar of jam pretty quick. In fact I'd never had store bought jam before moving away to college. Store bought isn't the same. And homemade is so easy. And fairly cheap too!

So there's no recipe. Buy a box of Sure-Jell and tear it open in the store. Don't worry, everyone does it. There's a piece of paper inside that will tell you exactly how much fruit and how much sugar you need to use. I believe this jam called for 4 pounds of plums (bought on sale for $0.88 a pound) and 8 cups of sugar. The cool thing I did, is once I followed the regular recipe for jam on the piece of paper inside the box of Sure-Jell, I stirred in 1 cup of chopped up crystallized ginger. Then into the sterilized jars and processed for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. I got 10 jars and a bowl left over. There is nothing as delicious as freshly made jam. On good bread. Unless it's that peanut butter and jelly sandwich that I'll be munching on tomorrow while I'm working on my homework. It's like being in 5th grade all over again.

Friday, September 12, 2008

One Chicken, Many Meals

The price of food is on a lot of people's minds. It's high. And now it's time to do some creative budgeting. SO to give you an easy way to stretch that grocery dollar, let's talk about chicken. Yes, chicken. Roasting a chicken for dinner is a really easy and comforting thing to do. There are seriously tons of interesting and tasty ways to roast a chicken and it really doesn't matter which way you do it.

I roasted mine with a handful of fresh parsley and a cut up lemon inside of it, after I sprinkled the cavity and under the skin with a combination of cracked black pepper and kosher salt. I then tucked the wings under the body, stuck it in a pan and placed it in a preheated 425 degree F. oven for an hour while I went off and wrote a paper. (I should indeed be writing 2 papers right now, but that's another story.) And here's my finished bird.

When I got home from school, the Brain had eaten his half the chicken and I sliced some off to eat that night. We will count this as meal 1. I then pulled any remaining meat off this carcass and made a light and delicious chicken salad. Again, any chicken salad will do, but I wanted to try a Curried Chicken Salad with Grapes that sounded interesting and that's the one I went for. It was pretty good and provided meals 2 through 6. The Brain didn't have any of the salad, and the amount of leftovers and meals you can make with leftovers will depend greatly on how many people are eating them.

Then I took the chicken carcass that had been picked clean of edible meat and threw it in a pot with some water, half an onion, a couple stalks of celery cut in 3 pieces each, a cut in quarters carrot and a handful of parsley. I let that boil for about 2 hours. Then I strained it and stuck it in a bowl in the fridge. When I got back from school, the grease from the chicken had coagulated on top. It was pretty gross. That grease gets thrown out. But now I had some golden chicken broth. Which I packaged up in my favorite ice cream container and stuck in the freezer for later.
I took some more of the yummy golden broth and heated it to boiling with a carrot, nicely chopped, a stalk of celery, nicely chopped, and about a cup of fine egg noodles. And voila! I have chicken soup. Perfect for a rainy afternoon like today! And that's meal 7 and probably 8 and 9 out of that one little chicken. I'm telling you chicken is a real money saver.

For more ideas on stretching a dollar, try checking out Mrs. W's Kitchen and The Cheap Chick.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Tomato Sauce!

I wish I could say my schedule is turning into something completely manageable and that I'm whizzing through my classes and my house is clean and I'm preparing gourmet meals daily. Yeah. That would be nice.

In reality, we harvested most of the garden over the weekend. I roasted up the remaining beets and those have been a nice "go-to" addition to salads and as side dishes. The second crop of beans were steamed and eaten. Our zucchini and acorn squash plants seems to have rotted. Odd. And our onions never grew. I suspect that perhaps stomping on them (as I was told to do to make them grow big) wasn't the best idea. I won't do it next year. Our broccoli plants never really had broccoli on them. And I have 4 small cabbages sitting on my counter for me to figure out what to do with them. I'm open to suggestions. I'd say it wasn't the best year for the garden.

What we did end up with a lot of were these tiny little plum tomatoes. I was going to can the tomatoes, like I did last year, so I could enjoy them all year long. But the idea of trying to peel a gazillion 1 inch plum tomatoes didn't really excite me. The Brain had been hopping up and down asking me to make tomato sauce so I looked around to see what I could find in the way of a no-peel tomato sauce. Fortunately the Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook came to my rescue! Yes, a delicious oven roasted tomato sauce from a diet, I mean lifestyle change, book.
And it's really really easy! I just had to quarter all of those tomatoes and put them on parchment lined baking sheets with a chopped up onion and about 6 peeled cloves of garlic. Then I sprayed them with olive oil (I have a Misto, but I'm pretty certain regular cooking spray would work.) Drizzled them with a little balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper and roasted them in a 375 degree F. oven for about an hour, rotating the sheets at the halfway point. Then when they are lightly browned, slightly dried out and smell really yummy, throw it in the food processor and blend it down. I didn't alter the recipe at all so I'm not going to post the exact recipe, but you get the idea.
Yeah, it's a really good and easy way to use up those tomatoes. And it's so yummy that I've been finding excuses to make pasta for lunch as much as I can. The best part is that I can freeze it in handy little used cottage cheese and yogurt containers and then just pull them out and thaw them when life gets a little too crazy for me.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Baking for Christopher

I'm on my way to school, but I wanted to stop and post this first. Let me tell you about a really important thing I've gotten involved in. It's called Operation Baking Gals. Basically, it's a bunch of bloggers (and non-bloggers) who've gotten together and are sending baked goods to soldiers wherever they are stationed. I know that when my friend J. (who just let me know he's engaged to a lovely woman YAY!) was stationed over in Iraq he loved getting food packages and would share the goodies and the morale boost with as many people as he could. J. is back now, so I haven't had anyone to bake for. Then I found out about this terrific group and every month there will be a new soldier to bake for.

This month my soldier is Christopher and he's in charge of a fairly big group of Junior soldiers. I'm not sure what Junior soldiers are. So for Christopher and his gang I made some gingersnaps, because they always make me think of home. I have no idea why they make me think of home because we never had any at my mom's house. Or my grandma's. I also made them some chocolate chip cookie bars. These were most likely found in my home growing up. I figure it's the least I can do to turn my oven on in this silly heat wave when these boys (and girls I'm assuming) are sweating their hineys off far from home.


1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
2 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
6 Tbsp butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup dark molasses
1/4 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugar until very fluffy. Add egg, molasses, zest, and lemon juice and beat well until combined. Stir in the flour mixture until blended. Form the dough into 3/4 inch balls and arrange about 1 1/2 inches apart on lined cookie sheets. Bake, 1 sheet at a time, about 12 minutes. The cookies will flatten and develop a crinkled suface as they bake. Let stand briefly, then remove to a rack to cool.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Tuna and White Bean Salad

For a while there I thought Fall was just around the corner. Apparently it was a trick. No sooner had we pulled out the air conditioner for the end of the summer than we get to have 90 degree F. weather. Yay. And I don't know about you, but when it gets hot, I get stupid. Like really, not too bright. A prime example was today. I reached for a can of garbanzo beans. I thought I grabbed a can of garbanzo beans. I opened a can of cannellini beans. Oops.

SO today's Legume Wednesday selection is, yet again, not what I had planned. However, this is a really good dish for today. It's packed with protein so it's a great stand alone lunch. And there's no mayonnaise so it doesn't have to be vigilantly refrigerated. And it's a really satisfying and tasty dish. I changed the spices up from the original Bon Appetit recipe. Mostly because my parsley plant has finally bit the dust, and for some reason I don't have any sage in the cupboards. Don't worry, I didn't have a meltdown.

Tuna and White Bean Salad
adapted from Bon Appetit

1 6 ounce can tuna
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 15 ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
salt and pepper to taste

Whisk olive oil and vinegar together in a medium bowl. Add onion and oregano. Mix in beans and tuna. Season to taste with salt and fresh cracked pepper.